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Serving Customers Better with Mike Colleran

  • April 30, 2021
27 min read
Serving Customers Better with Mike Colleran

Aharon Horwitz
CEO, Fullpath

Ilana Shabtay
VP of Marketing, Fullpath

Mike Colleran
Senior Vice President of Marketing and Sales, Nissan U.S.

Mike Colleran is the Senior Vice President, Marketing and Sales, Nissan U.S. He has been working with Nissan for 10 years, joining Nissan USA in June 2020 with demonstrated expertise in delivering results and fixing problems. Before Nissan, he was the Chairman and Corporate Vice President of INFINITI Motor Company Ltd in Hong Kong.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • How Mike Colleran started working at Nissan U.S.
  • How the military helps create great leaders and the way it molded Mike’s management philosophy
  • The differences between the Nissan dealer network and domestic dealer networks
  • Nissan’s new online car purchasing tool
  • How Mike broke into the automotive industry and international work
  • What dealers want the Nissan brand to know — and what Nissan wants dealers and customers to know
  • Does Nissan provide products for different markets?

In this episode…

Nissan has been getting you from one place to the next for over 60 years. During that time, they’ve grown to serve different parts of the world. And with good reason: their dealer network is the leader in customer satisfaction.

In the last year, Nissan has also been busy developing an online purchasing tool called “Nissan at Home,” which allows customers to test drive and buy cars from the comfort of their homes. It’s all part of their continued work to serve customers better — because isn’t that what it’s all about?

In this episode of the InsideAuto Podcast, co-hosts Aharon Horwitz and Ilana Shabtay are joined by Mike Colleran, the Senior Vice President and Corporate Officer at Nissan USA, to talk about the car maker’s new strategies for serving customers better. Mike also explains how military service has impacted his life and career, how he got to work in the auto industry, and how Nissan provides products for different markets.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by AutoLeadStar, a company that helps car dealerships engage quality customers on the web and convert them into car buyers.

Co-founded by Aharon Horwitz, Yishai Goldstein, and Eliav Moshe, AutoLeadStar’s state-of-the-art software automates a dealership’s entire marketing funnel and provides around-the-clock service for dealers.

AutoLeadStar’s innovative technology helps dealerships automate ads, connect with customers, and discover ROI and performance metrics

Visit their website at to learn more about their around-the-clock marketing service.

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:03

Welcome to InsideAuto Podcast where we feature everyone and anyone you’d want to talk to you in and out of the automotive industry.

Ilana Shabtay 0:14

Ilana Shabtay here with Aharon Horwitz, co-host of InsideAuto Podcast, where we interview top dealers, GMs, marketers, entrepreneurs and thought leaders in and out of the automotive industry. And before we introduce today’s guest, this episode is sponsored by The AutoLeadStar platform is built on a technology so powerful it allows you to market, sell and service cars as you would in the real world at scale and online, making one to one matches between shoppers and inventory. AutoLeadStar is the only platform that is powered by scale, speed and specificity to change the way dealers do marketing today. Right, we are back Aharon. I am so excited for today’s episode.

Aharon Horwitz 0:54

Oh yeah, this is a really special one. I hope everyone showed up to listen today. We have an amazing guest today and could not be more excited to introduce him to our listeners and talk with him a little bit about the industry and a Nissan actually because we have Michael Colleran and who’s the corporate Vice President at Nissan Motor Co. in the US and he’s a senior vice president. He’s on us marketing and sales Nissan North America. He is here with us today. And what’s so interesting. I saw Mike, when we looked at your bio you join us in the middle of a pandemic. Did I get that right? Well,

Mike Colleran 1:28

I joined Nissan USA, in the USA and pandemic I’ve been with Nissan actually for 10 years now, after 21 years with General Motors a couple years with Saab, which we took private from a General Motors sale. But I’ve been with Nissan for 10 years, but back in the US for a little over a year now.

Aharon Horwitz 1:54

Got it in that was and where were you prior to that?

Mike Colleran 1:57

I was at INFINITI.

Aharon Horwitz 1:59

That’s when you were in Japan I saw right?

Mike Colleran

Exactly. Yeah, I was a global chairman. We actually were located in Hong Kong. We subsequently moved to the headquarters just as I was coming back this way to Yokohama and that’s where INFINITI is located today.

Aharon Horwitz 2:18

Understood. Okay, interesting. And so, in this kind of new reality I mean, I can’t imagine a more insane time to take on a new role than April 2020. As kind of, you know, February, March, April, I mean, the insanity was just just launching, like, how was that for you?

Mike Colleran 2:39

Well, it was a little crazy, because we were, you know, well, we’re 95% done on the move from Hong Kong to Yokohama, I’m coming back to the states to essentially bounce into the states and try to bounce back to Japan. Because at that point, certain countries were closing down in certain shipping lanes, so to speak, we’re not available, and then got stuck here. And it was at that time, when they came to me and said, hey, look, do you think you could take over the US sales and marketing operations, and something I really was not on the agenda. But you know, COVID changed everything. It changed. how consumers are purchasing cars today, it certainly changed the way that we work together and interact. And, and ultimately, it changed the course of my career. Because I was not expecting to come back to the US and not be allowed to go back to Japan. And I was ready to do so. But really I’m glad to be home.

Aharon Horwitz 3:46

How long were you? Let’s say COVID did not happen right now. You wouldn’t be in Japan most likely.

Mike Colleran 3:52

I would definitely have been in Japan, still serving as the chairman of INFINITI USA or INFINITI Global.

Aharon Horwitz 3:59

Wow. Oh, wow. So that’s, that’s amazing. life change that that came about through it? Yeah, there’s all the stories of like finding a trade, you know, the silver lining in any, any cloud? Yeah. So I recall this article I read, Amanda must have been like, even 1012 years ago, in Forbes or fortune, I was in an airport. And there was this great story about how corporations were hiring ex military officers because of all the transformation and change in business and kind of the operating environment. They were kind of looking for profiles and competencies that could handle uncertainty, pressure, sort of multivariate environments, and so on and so forth. And so, you know, when we were getting to know you a bit, we learned about your history in the Marines. And I assume you started from the bottom there because doesn’t everybody right? That’s the whole the whole ethos there, right? Oh,

Mike Colleran 4:52

no, no question about it. Right?

Aharon Horwitz 4:54

Yeah, it started at the bottom. You made it up to Captain which is a pretty significant rank. So do you agree? With that kind of thesis of this article, like, do you believe that the experiences you had at that point of your life, you know, then let something to kind of what you had to do during COVID?

Mike Colleran 5:11

Yeah, there are no questions. It’s a metaphor. I like the question quite a bit. I think there’s a number of different training environments where great leaders come from, not just the military, but the military does provide some unusual experiences. I mean, once you’ve been shot at everything else seems to be a little less important. And sometimes it’s about your composure and your ability to react in difficult landscapes. And there’s a number of places where you can pick that up along the way, not just the military, but certainly it has had a great impact on me. And, you know, my, my views going forward, not just not just that aspect of it, but really, on a day to day basis. I think, the discipline, discipline, a thought of action, of how you interact with your team is extremely important. And I think it’s the basis for some of the successes that I’ve had in this, this, this business, and I think it underpins many great leaders, you see that they’ve had to face adversity. And when you’ve had to face that adversity, a number of times you start to understand that the sun always rises, and that good teams find a way to make things happen in difficult times.

Aharon Horwitz 6:34

Isn’t there also like some level of sort of respecting people for their accomplishments, rather than any trappings that you kind of pick up I think those environments, you know, where you have to trust people, and you see people in the worst in the best and, you know, as a leader, you know, Nissan now and prior to that, and the other auto companies you were in, which are kind of these really big organizations with a lot of tensions, think about 2008. And probably what you experience during those years, and how’s it kind of shaped the way you trust people you manage? Or how do you relate to them? You know, in terms of your management philosophy?

Mike Colleran 7:08

Yeah, it’s, it’s a, that’s another great question. Because it definitely comes from the Marine Corps philosophy of relying on each other, and supporting each other. And when you think about the COVID period that we’ve been dealing with, and post, maybe post COVID is not the right word. But sir, because we’re certainly not out of it. Certainly, certain markets certainly are. But in that environment, as we’ve started to find our way out of COVID, I think we had to rely on each other, we’ve really had to rely a here on on teams, and, and making sure that the teams are keeping their cohesion, which is difficult when you’re on zoom everyday. And or in, in those environments where you have to be together like manufacturing, where we’re safely supporting each other, and trusting each other. And, and clearly, the teamwork, I think is one of the things that maybe was perhaps a little undervalued versus what the reality of today is, and, and keeping those teams together has been really one of the key challenges of leadership here at Nissan, and I’m sure other companies are seeing it as well. And, and now, you know, we have a global supply chain, I would say issue, a number of issues out there. And once again, it’s great teamwork that seems to be lifting us beyond what might be expected.

Aharon Horwitz 8:37

You know, I know back in 2011, or 2010, you were in Canada, and you were liaising with the dealer network in Canada, right, the Nissan Dealer network. I’m always so curious about that relationship. Because, you know, it seems like, I mean, I’m more familiar with the US history, but it kind of was forged in, you know, at first, this sort of, you know, this the tensions that came after the Great Depression, and there were these, there’s this historical on the US OEMs, you know, the the domestic OEMs, as your GM, you know, there’s this very storied relationship of their dealers and the manufacturers, you know, their famous stories of Henry Ford, and, you know, how he interacts with his dealers and whatnot. And so I wonder with Nissan, which, you know, which is a foreign OEM, essentially, even though it’s, for all intents and purposes, embedded in the US, right, and like all the most of the, of the foreign OEMs what’s, what’s different about a Nissan Dealer network, and a domestic dealer network, kind of what what is there because it’s a newer brand for the US, is it a different energy or you know, give us a little bit insight into that because we don’t get to see behind that curtain that often.

Mike Colleran 9:44

So err in the eye probably correct. Your friend says, you know, we’ve been here 60 years.

Aharon Horwitz 9:49

We see yours. You’re right. I shouldn’t. I kind of like I live in like the 19 like 20s and 30s. of like, I love those stories of there was this great essay in the New Yorker by what’s his name James sir wacky or something like that he wrote this great essay of like, how the auto industry OEM dealer dynamic came about in sort of, you know, this, this moment where the the OEMs, were telling the dealers like, you are going to buy my product during the Great Depression, or you’re gonna lose your point. And then the dealer’s kind of struck back by trying to build out these franchise protection laws at the state level. And that kind of created this balance of power, the effects of which we still see to this day. So you’re correct. He sounds much older than I thought.

Mike Colleran 10:30

But yeah, we are. And I was asked in a recent interview about how I felt about the changes in the administration and said, You know, we’ve, we’ve been here six years, we’ve 60 years, on the record trail with a lot of the administration’s work with a lot of the administration’s and, and we, we always seem to work well with them. So from a standpoint of the dealer network, though, structurally, there is really no difference between us and the domestics, we run our businesses the same ways. And, and some of that is structurally, the way the business works. It’s a built to stock system here, where manufacturers build cars, dealers buy those cars, and when consumers come in, as opposed to build the order. So that determines a lot of your structure as to how you’re actually going to operate. And of course, you know, the laws of the country in the states are all the same for everybody. So we interact the same way. You know, when I think about our dealer network, it’s a dealer network that has been at the top of customer satisfaction. So whether it’s JD Power, CSI, SSI, reputation, calm, we were actually number one, this year in, in reputation, calm survey of online reputation management, so around happy with our network from that standpoint, and then the resiliency of the network has been, I would say, a core strength for us, no matter what, you know, Mother Nature, or the world tends to throw at us. They seem to be flexible, fast to adapt, and always, with the mindset of taking care of the customers, doing a great job. And, and, and I would say in many ways were very similar to the US network structure and what you would expect probably the one difference, I’d say in the short run, has been Nissan has developed an online purchasing tool called Nissan at Home, and you know, you can buy at home, you can service at home, you can test drive at home, and our dealers, and we do this through our dealers, as opposed to some manufacturers that have decided to go direct, we have not, we are going to continue to work with our dealer partners. And we think that combinations the best, but literally, you can sit at home, buy it now, all the way through and take delivery right at your home

Aharon Horwitz 12:53

even how can consumers find that if they want to play with that? Like, what’s the best way to look at Nissan USA,

Mike Colleran 13:01

you can go right in, and it’s across 50 states, across the USA, you can do that. And every state we have the ability to do that now. That’s nice. So

Aharon Horwitz 13:09

So when did that initiative come about?

Mike Colleran 13:12

Well, we’ve been piloting it over the last six months or so maybe even nine months. And we went live April 1.

Ilana Shabtay 13:22

Is it something you are working on prior to COVID? Or did I and or did COVID accelerate it?

Mike Colleran 13:28

That’s a great question. And you answered it as well. We were starting prior to COVID COVID definitely accelerated it. And we saw the ability to in this environment where consumers adoption rates, were clearly going to be higher, accelerate that and try to be the first with a completely integrated, I’m looking for the right word, integrated and full value chain ability to purchase from and and not just not just a couple of waypoints along the way, but literally stay the whole way on your couch and bring that car in and drive it.

Ilana Shabtay 14:10

And that’s an important distinction because I think a lot are out there in the market saying that they do end to end when really it just brings them closer to coming into the store versus having that full end to end experience.

Mike Colleran 14:22

Completely agree with that statement?

Aharon Horwitz 14:24

Yeah, when you think about sort of the it just seems like that is going to be a key asset for anyone who wants to be meaning many people will still want to come into a dealership and they will want to touch and feel that car and they will but there is you know there is a very significant we see from looking at the public markets and how some of those kind of pure play digital platforms are moving. You know, there’s clearly a demand and you can imagine that demand is going to rise and you just kind of need to have it like you need to have a website you need to have a digital marketing you need to have that

Mike Colleran 14:54

that ability. Everyone like me that wants to everyone will be there and it’s just a question. have kind of who arrives first, and with the best solutions out there, but everybody will want it. And it is interesting to watch. Because when you’re on an electronic system like that you can see consumers along the way will decide to opt out and want to opt out, not necessarily, not necessarily not buy, although that’s one of the ways to opt out. But they may opt out and say, yeah, you know, I’ve gone all the way down, I’ve got my credit rating done, and I’ve, I’ve already got my trading value guaranteed. But I want to go drive it at the dealership, right? I don’t want to just drive one car brought to me, I’m going to try and drive three different versions or maybe, you know, different trim levels. And so those out, I’ll go to the store and do that, or they may at the last second you say, you know, I really want to do the the experience of taking delivery at the store, which can be, you know, some fanfare at certain stores, depending on how they want to do it. And so we’ve seen consumers along the way, but we’ve also seen consumers that go all the way and and, and the car is literally just dropped off by a flatbed truck and fantastic that is awesome.

Aharon Horwitz 16:09

Right there. Yeah. So that’s 1919 days in the wild, right. I mean, that’s really that’s fresh. A lot of us were breaking news here. Are we? Breaking News announced here, you

Mike Colleran 16:22

heard it. He did announce it back in December.

Aharon Horwitz 16:25

Okay, got it. Got it. So we’re not, we’re a little behind the curve here. But

Mike Colleran 16:29

I will tell you, I think you’re one of the first outlets I’ve talked to, since we’ve launched.

Aharon Horwitz 16:35

So okay, good. There we go.

Mike Colleran 16:36

We are 19 days into it.

Aharon Horwitz 16:38

Very nice. Good to hear that. So tell us about I’m just curious about you a little bit more like you traveled? I assume you traveled in the service. But even as a professional it’s kind of a post. Did you get into auto immediately after the Marine Corps? Did you go to university? What was your journey kind of into auto?

Mike Colleran 16:56

Well, auto started more as the family side of the business before the military? Oh, really? Yeah. Through my father, and, you know, washing cars and doing stuff like that. And he worked for another manufacturer, and I had the opportunity to get exposed to cars and just loved cars. Yeah, like a lot of young kids and, and never lost my love for those cars. But the military sort of called I actually went to tell the long story. But I went to a recruiter to talk a friend out of joining the army, and ended up in the Marine Corps as a result of that. That was not planned. I thought it’s a great story someday when he has a little more time. Yeah, and then ended up in the Marine Corps for a number of years. And then when I got out, after a couple of stents were red ball fishing, and they said why don’t you try and come back to the business. And I ended up with General Motors. Another great story and spent 21 years with them, I think maybe a little more did you do your BA before or after? The Marine Corps? before? Before the Marine Corps? Or MBA was after the MBA was after?

Aharon Horwitz 18:15

Got it? And then and then you traveled? Like, were you up for the travel? Was that like, was that sort of? You know, I don’t know that. It seems like you really, you went to Japan and you’re in Canada, and you’re back in the US? Like, how does that do it? Do you feel like that’s just part of what it takes? Like, how do you relate to that? I get it from a human level?

Mike Colleran 18:34

Yeah, I think mostly it’s a requirement of the business and you just, you get used to it, nobody. Everybody thinks it’s really, you know, fun and glamorous to start with. And then you realize that it’s a it’s, well, at least at one point, it was a terrible waste of time. Because you were in the air, but now you can work almost the whole way. And those flights from Hong Kong to Dallas, and then back to Nashville back and forth. where, you know, some time I got most of my work done,

Aharon Horwitz 19:03

How long? How often would you do that? Like, let’s get it was there a month where you were doing that? I know, every two weeks, like how often Okay,

Mike Colleran 19:11

I’ll just give me you know, more more, you know, every six weeks, eight weeks or so, even a little bit more but but you know, Interim you’re traveling back and forth to Japan, which is only a three hour flight from Hong Kong. And then of course the travel here in the States. And you know, I just got back from New York on Saturday morning. And that maybe is actually more interesting as business travel has started again. And yeah, we spent three days in Washington, New Jersey and New York back talking to dealers face to face.

Aharon Horwitz 19:49

And you’re so in that, that when you get to those when you show up at those dealers. You know, kind of what’s the number one thing you’re hearing right now that they want the kind of the brand to know. Well, you know, when they get in front of you, mostly we’re hearing optimism. The stores are busy, obviously a little concern over the recent supply issues, but they have cars right now.

Mike Colleran 20:11

So they’re pretty happy about that. Whereas some other manufacturers may be a little less well situated. But, but generally speaking, you hear about electrification, and what’s our viewpoint on electrification going out? Not surprisingly, yeah. But more than anything, what we get is a lot of Nissan Next, and our strategic plan on how to grow the business, you know, essentially, you know, we’re changing the business, changing the product, changing culture. And anytime you’re trying to take that on, and make those changes stick a lot of work that has to be done there. When we start with the product, the all new Central and all new Kroger hits in the marketplace, every story you guys can go out and you know, the stats are available, they’re growing share, better customer, more household income, more creditworthy dealer see a commitment to a more, I would say, smart rental sales, where we’re lowering our rental business still in the business, but lower and lower day supply of vehicles on the lots. So making the entire business change in the chain, start to reflect the desires of Nissan Next, again, changing that product from the ground up. And then changing the business. And then of course, changing the culture as well to to a culture that is, as we like to say, moving it from price to value from push to pull, and letting, letting the market pull pull the business through. And that’s happening right now. And we can see it below it. So you know, we’re very happy with that. But it all starts with a product. And, you know, I just said center and rogue doing so much better. And we can feel that poll coming through. And those products are a blueprint for 10 new products over 20 months, we’ve just finished revealing the last of those with frontier and Pathfinder and Pathfinder launches coming up real soon. So we’re very excited about that

Ilana Shabtay 22:29

We’re first on breaking news today.

Mike Colleran 22:32

I know. And, and we’ve launched on top of that, our first brand campaign in many years to once again, reconnect consumers with the Nissan brand itself, not just the products, but the brand. And you’ve seen the work that Brie Larson has done for us recently, which has been extremely well received in the marketplace, and talking about all the new products that are here or are coming and, and she finishes saying this is the next Nissan, I

Aharon Horwitz 23:04

know that horizon, you know, and people to know that you guys are committed to it’s true also about us and we make technology for dealers, that’s our company, but we always try to communicate to the dealers like okay, you know, not make it a secret, we want to know, here’s the next thing we’re attacking, here’s how we’re thinking about it. We know people feel good when there’s life and development and, and, and innovation. And I think when you feel like a vendor, a brand, a company is stagnant, and just kind of sitting on what it has. It’s not interesting to people these days. You know, they want to feel like you’re going somewhere. And there’s that journey element, which I think is very human too, right. Humans relate to journeys and relate to stories with beginning middles, right. So there’s something about it, that’s if you can kind of have that feeling people are journeying with you, or you’re journeying somewhere exciting, it’s always powerful. I have one question that I know that we are, we’re gonna have to get you out of here, because we know you got something coming up. But Mike, I’m always curious about the interplay between the global markets when it comes to products, right, because their products are designed with the understanding that different markets have different needs. So like, I sometimes think about it, like it’s not the case that every US city, I mean, there are parts of the US and I think how to phrase this, there are parts of the US where a vehicle that’s made in India, or Europe might fit better than a vehicle that’s made for the US, right, there’s something like flattening I think about that. So I know that Nissan and most OEMs have some products that fit to different markets or that sell on different murder markets. To what extent they’re thinking about kind of like micro or hyper targeting, you know, regions for different types of vehicles that maybe aren’t found in the US today or, or what have you.

Mike Colleran 24:41

Does that happen at all? It certainly does. I mean, consumers have different preferences across the states across the globe and across the states. We and we have a good ability to react and place products into those markets that make sense for the country. Sooner in what they demand. And you can practice. We practiced that today. And you know, just look at EBS, EBS tend to sell in the us a little bit stronger on the coasts right now, and a little bit less than the the central parts of the country, of course, that will change with the new new administration’s viewpoint on and you know, we’re prepared to do that. We’re launching the all new Aria that’s coming up. And that’s an EVE and EBS up, and we’re extremely excited about that. And that happens a little bit less than a year from now. But, certainly we have the ability to do that. And, and target products across the globe, we have a global footprint. And you can see from many of the global OEMs that they’re able to do that nice I can as well.

Aharon Horwitz 25:52

Oh, my just is the shop at home global?

Mike Colleran 25:56

No shop well. Shop at home is a US platform.

Aharon Horwitz 26:02

If I’m sitting in I don’t know Paris and I want to order a Nissan I can’t. It’s not the same interface. You don’t have that yet. It’s there. Is there a European analog to shop at home

Mike Colleran 26:12

The global direction for Nissan is to have online purchasing available across the globe. But it’s a phasing approach. The US is first.

Aharon Horwitz 26:23

Very nice. Okay, great. There we go. All right. Wonderful. Well, this was really a pleasure. We super, super appreciated talking to you. It was very interesting. And, you know, I feel like a lot of you probably have been around for a couple more hours here. We haven’t gotten to the good stuff. Let’s put it that way. We know there’s some good stories here that Mike’s holding back in some upcoming conference we’ll get we’ll get some good stories. But

Mike Colleran 26:46

I’d love to tell you those stories sometimes and a lot on Earth. It’s been a real pleasure. And so maybe we do round two sometime in May.

Ilana Shabtay 26:55

be where we look at the sun at home some of the stats since it was just launched 19 days ago, we could do that and then we can bring in some of the funnier stories.

Mike Colleran 27:03

Sounds Sounds great. I look forward to it.

Aharon Horwitz 27:05

Wonderful. Okay, wonderful. So Ilana, let’s let our listeners know how they can hear this show and then we’re going to wrap with Mike here.

Ilana Shabtay 27:14

Yeah, thank you so much for tuning in. And thank you so much, Mike. You can find all of our podcasts on all mainstream apps. I heart Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, you can find all that information at insight auto podcast calm. Thank you so much for joining us today. And thank you for listening.

Mike Colleran 27:31

Thank you.

Aharon Horwitz 27:32

Take care, everybody.

Mike Colleran 27:33


Outro 27:38

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